By Craig McKee
Just a month after it was announced to the world, the 9/11 feature film September Morn, based on a script from first-time screenwriter Howard Cohen, is dead.
At least in its current form.
The project fell apart over the past couple of weeks after Cohen’s partners in the production, Fleur de Lis Film Studios, announced on Oct. 16 that the film would go ahead with stars Woody Harrelson and Martin Sheen even though neither had formally committed themselves to the project (The announcement received considerable media attention, including an article in The Huffington Post).
In fact, a full cast was announced even though some actors had not even been approached to appear. The cast also featured Ed Asner and Daniel Sunjata, who have been very supportive from the beginning.
The two main combatants in this dispute, Cohen and Fleur de Lis president BJ Davis (who was to be the director of the film), both claim that the other was falsely claiming that Harrelson and Sheen were attached to the project when they were not. Both blamed each other for the collapse of the film in interviews I did with them this week.
Among those who had never been contacted were Valerie Harper, Michelle Phillips, and Dick Gregory. Cohen says these were just people who were being considered for roles. According to Cohen, letters of intent to be in the film had been signed by Judd Nelson, John Heard, Nick Mancuso, Joseph Culp, Paul Cross, as well as Asner and Sunjata prior to Fleur de Lis becoming involved.
Cohen says Davis announced the cast when he knew the stars had not signed a contract or even accepted an offer. He says money was being raised for the film under false pretenses as a result. Davis denies this and counter-attacks, saying that it was Cohen who was falsely claiming that these two actors had agreed to appear and that he sold his script on that basis.
In a public statement, Davis wrote: “In order to induce our company’s purchase of his screenplay, Cohen falsely represented that Woody Harrelson and Martin Sheen (as well as number of other prominent actors) agreed to star in the film. We were assured that our formal offers for the feature film “September Morn” would serve to formalize the alleged attachments.”
“We relied on Howard Cohen’s good intentions,” Davis said in the interview.
But Cohen says this is completely false and that both Harrelson and Sheen had indeed agreed to appear, although they had not been signed officially. He says that Davis stated in an Aug. 4 email that it was important to get Harrelson and Sheen formally locked up.
“Let’s coordinate for me to call Woody and Martin’s reps to get them on board officially” the email from Davis to Cohen read. Cohen says this proves that Davis knew the actors were not attached to the project formally and that he had no right to announce that they were.
Cohen says that over the 10 weeks that followed the Aug. 4 email, neither actor was contacted. Only after the press release announcing that the film was going ahead with them in the leads were formal offers extended to any of the performers. The offer to Martin Sheen went out Oct. 19 with an expiry date of Oct. 29. Sheen did not respond to the offer.
Cohen says Davis has been in the film business long enough to know that you can’t announce a cast until the actors have formally committed themselves to the project. He adds that Davis was talking about starting to shoot the film even though he had not signed Screen Actors Guild contracts for any cast members.
Davis says he was led to believe that both stars were on board when Fleur de Lis entered into their agreement with Cohen on Aug. 2. He says that Cohen was telling people for months that both had agreed to be in the film, which he says neither star had agreed to. He goes further, saying that the representatives of both stars state that Cohen never had permission to use their names in promoting the film.
Cohen denies this, saying that both stars were very enthusiastic about the film. He says that if Sheen is upset now about having been mentioned on the Actors and Artists for 9/11 Truth web site it was not because of any intent on Cohen’s part to mislead anyone.
“At the time I did not see it as a problem,” he says, “but in retrospect, I can see how Martin’s people would object to it now – considering the lies Davis has been making to them about me.”
Cohen admits that his original online wording (on the Actors and Artists for 9/11 Truth web site) stating that these and other actors had agreed to appear was not proper Hollywood terminology. He says this is why he changed the wording to “expressed an interest in” several months ago.
A dispute also exists over Cohen’s script, which he had agreed to sell to Davis’s company for $10,000. Cohen says he did receive $4,500 of that amount with the balance due on the first day of shooting. Cohen is now offering it to anyone for free; all you have to do is go to 911newinvestigation.com and download the pdf.
“In a direct violation of his contractual obligations, Cohen printed and maliciously disseminated a work-in-progress to sabotage the project, incurring huge legal and financial liabilities for himself,” Davis said in a statement.
Davis says Cohen didn’t own the script outright and had no right to give it away. But Cohen counters that he offered to return the $4,500 or to give up the script entirely upon receipt of the $5,500 balance, but Davis refused both.
Cohen adds that Davis tried to get Cohen to sign a new agreement that would have him turn over copyright of the script to Fleur de Lis prior to full payment. Cohen says he would never agree to this because he wanted to be certain that the money to make the film would be raised before he agreed to give up control of the script.
Davis also accuses Cohen of making outrageous financial demands. Cohen’s contract called for him to receive one-third of Fleur de Lis’s share of the film’s profits.
“Howard’s contract included point participation, which was to come out of the back end profit (in addition to being paid for the screenplay, which he was),” Davis wrote to me in an email.
“Instead of receiving his additional points when the film makes money (per the contract), he sent us a “cease and desist” notice, to prevent the company from going forward with the film, unless we pay him 1/3 of the production budget up front, on the first day of filming.”
Cohen denies this as well, saying it would not have been in his interest to insist on anything so ridiculous. He says the only payment he was to receive on the first day of shooting was the balance of the $10,000 for the script.
Cohen says the vision he and Davis had for getting the film shown was quite different. Davis was looking to get theatrical distribution while Cohen says he would have been happier with a television deal that would have led to more people seeing the film. He says that it was unlikely that the film would ever have received wide theatrical distribution.
It’s important to point out at this stage that a 9/11 film called September Morn may still be made by Fleur de Lis at some point (the official web site is still up but the plot summary listed is new and Cohen’s name is gone). Davis, who is working on a new script with his wife, Julia Davis, says the new film will call for answers about 9/11 and justice for the victims and their families, which Cohen’s also did.
The difference is that while the Cohen script followed more of a “12 Angry Men” type of minimalist scenario, the Davis story will be a more traditional Hollywood story, even including a love interest. Meanwhile, Cohen says he is looking into other ways to produce his script, including a possible presentation on the Internet that would be structured like a play reading.
More about this dispute is certain to come out in the days ahead. For now there are two possible 9/11 projects instead of one – but no certainty that either of them will ever be made.
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